Geoarchaeology and bioarchaeology


Earth and environmental sciences (2nd level)

Paleobiology and sedimentary geology (2nd Cycle)

Course code: MIP05
Year of study: none

Course principal:
Assoc. Prof. Aleksander Horvat, Ph. D.


Workload: lectures 30 hours, seminar 10 hours, tutorial 30 hours, findividual work 80 hours.
Course type: elective
Languages: Slovene, English
Learning and teaching methods: lectures, discussions, seminars, practical sessions, field work


Course syllabus (download)


First-cycle Bologna degree or a university degree in the natural sciences.


Content (Syllabus outline):

Part 1 – Geoarchaeology:

  • Introduction to geoarchaeology
  • Sedimentology and stratigraphy
  • Weathering, soils and paleosols
  • Specific depositional environments (fluvial, lacustrine, glacial, eolian, coastal, karst)
  • Site formation processes
  • Post-depositional processes
  • Cave geoarchaeology
  • Paleoenvironmental reconstructions
  • Quaternary geochronology and climatology
  • Quaternary dating methods
  • Raw geomaterials and technology
    • Minerals, rocks and stone tools
    • Ceramic analyses
    • Sourcing artifacts and materials
  • Isotopic analyses
  • Trace element geochemistry


Part 2 – Bioarchaeology:

  • Introduction to archaeobotany
  • Microbotanical remains (pollen, phytoliths, starch grains)
  • Macrobotanical remains (wood, seeds, fruits …)
  • Vegetation, landscapes and paleoecology
  • Introduction to archaeozoology
  • Quaternary mammals and man
  • Faunal responses to habitat change
  • Micromammals as paleoenvironmental indicators
  • Seasonality
  • Domestication
  • Taphonomy
  • Palaeoeconomy; reconstruction of ancient diet
  • Experimental and ethnoarchaeological studies
  • Human impact on environment; Anthropocene



  • Analytical techniques for archaeological sediments
  • Laboratory analysis of artifacts and other cultural materials
  • Interpretation of geochemical data
  • Methods of collection and analysis of archaeobotanical samples
  • Identification of bones and teeth
  • Identification of specific bone alterations



Selected chapters and papers from:

  • Andrič, M., Tolar, T, Toškan, B.2016: Okoljska arheologija in paleoekologija. Založba ZRC, 1-259.
  • Davis, S. J. M. , 1995: The Archaeology of Animals. – Yale University Press, 22-154.
  • Dicauze, D. F., 2008: Environmental Archaeology: Principles and Practice. – Cambridge University Press, 620 pp.
  • Garrison, E., 2003: Techniques in Archaeological Geology (Natural Science in Archaeology). – Springer, 320 pp.
  • Goldberg, P. & Macphail, R. I., 2005: Practical and Theoretical Geoarchaeology. – Wiley-Blackwell, 468 pp.
  • Pearsall, D. M., 2015: Paleoethnobotany: A Handbook of Procedures. – Left Coast press, 3rd ed., 600 pp.
  • Rapp, H. & Hill, C., 2006: Geoarchaeology: The Earth-Science Approach to Archaeological Interpretation. – Yale University Press, 2nd ed., 368 pp.
  • Journal of Archaeological Science; Elsevier
  • Geoarchaeology; Wiley


Objectives and competences:

The purpose of this course is to familiarize students with basic concepts and research methods in the fields of geoarchaeology and bioarchaeology, and to show how such an interdisciplinary approach helps the archaeologist to interpret a site formation and reconstruct paleoenvironment and our prehistory. In the first part, the course will involve various studies of the physical environment and what material resources would have been available to people. In the second part, during which bioarchaeological remains will be discussed, students will get a broad overview of what plant and animal species were present in different archaeological periods and how people interacted with them. They will learn how to reconstruct prehistoric food production, plant and animal use. Methodological issues will be addressed in both parts as well: sampling strategies, sample processing, quantification, potentials and limitations in interpreting the data.


Intended learning outcomes:

Knowledge and understanding:

Students will:

  • be aware of the importance of acquiring geoarchaeological and bioarchaeological data for palaeoenvironmental and palaeoecological reconstructions
  • know how concepts and methods from the geosciences can be applied to archaeological problems
  • be able to make basic sedimentological and petrologic observations
  • know the proper sampling procedures
  • have basic competence in sorting and identification of bioarchaeological remains
  • be familiar with various approaches to the analysis of plant and animal remains from archaeological sites to explain how the environment was exploited and modified in the past
  • better understand the complexity of past human-environment interactions
  • be familiar with scientific and technical terms commonly used in geoarchaeology and bioarchaeology
  • have the ability to critically use literature from these fields.



Exam – theoretical part (40 %), exam – practical part (40 %), seminar (20 %).